27 January 2007

Don't drink the bollocks!

Eau, no: Clean, healthy and pure? Hardly. Bottled water is killing the planet
Bob Geldof said: 'Bottled water is bollocks. It is the great irony of the 21st century that the most basic things in the supermarket, such as water and bread, are among the most expensive. Getting water from the other side of the world and transporting it to sell here is ridiculous. It is all to do with lifestyle.'

Dr Michael Warhurst, Friends of the Earth's senior waste campaigner, said: 'It is another product we do not need. Bottled water companies are wasting resources and exacerbating climate change.

'Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and transporting water adds to that. We could help reduce these damaging effects if we all simply drank water straight from the tap.'

According to the EPI report, tap water is delivered through an 'energy-efficient infrastructure', whereas bottled water is often shipped halfway across the world, burning huge amounts of fossil fuels and accelerating global warming. In 2004, for example, Finnish company Nord Water sent 1.4 million bottles of Helsinki tap water to a client in Saudi Arabia. In the same year, producing the plastic bottles that delivered 26 billion litres of water to Americans required more than 1.5 million barrels of oil - enough to fuel 100,000 cars for a year.

Bottled Twaddle
Apparently we would. In March 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published the results of a four-year study in which they tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, finding that "an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle--sometimes further treated, sometimes not." If the label says "from a municipal source" or "from a community water system," it's tap water.

Even more disturbing, the NRDC found that 18 of the 103 brands tested had, in at least one sample, "more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity guidelines." About one fifth of the waters "contained synthetic organic chemicals--such as industrial chemicals (e.g., toluene or xylene) or chemicals used in manufacturing plastic (e.g., phthalate, adipate, or styrene)," but these were "generally at levels below state and federal standards." The International Bottled Water Association issued a response to the NRDC study in which it states, "Close scrutiny of the water quality standards for chemical contaminants reveals that [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's] bottled water quality standards are the same as [the Environmental Protection Agency's] tap water standards." Well, that's a relief, but in paying exceptional prices one might hope for exceptional quality.

One problem is that bottled water is subject to less rigorous purity standards and less frequent tests for bacteria and chemical contaminants than those required of tap water. For example, bottled-water plants must test for coliform bacteria once a week; city tap water must be tested 100 or more times a month.

If bottled water is not safer (a 2001 World Wildlife Fund study corroborated the general findings of the NRDC), then surely it tastes better? It does ... as long as you believe in your brand. Enter the water-wars hype. Pepsi introduced Aquafina, so Coke countered with Dasani, a brand that included a "Wellness Team" (meet Susie, Jonny and Ellie, the "stress relief facilitator," "fitness trainer" and "lifestyle counselor," respectively) on its Web site. Both companies charge more for their plain water than for their sugar water.

BOTTLED WATER: Pouring Resources Down the Drain
In contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. Nearly a quarter of all bottled water crosses national borders to reach consumers, transported by boat, train, and truck. In 2004, for example, Nord Water of Finland bottled and shipped 1.4 million bottles of Finnish tap water 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) from its bottling plant in Helsinki to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia can afford to import the water it needs, but bottled water is not just sold to water-scarce countries. While some 94 percent of the bottled water sold in the United States is produced domestically, Americans also import water shipped some 9,000 kilometers from Fiji and other faraway places to satisfy the demand for chic and exotic bottled water.

Fossil fuels are also used in the packaging of water. The most commonly used plastic for making water bottles is polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is derived from crude oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year. Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.

After the water has been consumed, the plastic bottle must be disposed of. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter. Incinerating used bottles produces toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Almost 40 percent of the PET bottles that were deposited for recycling in the United States in 2004 were actually exported, sometimes to as far away as China—adding to the resources used by this product.

In addition to the strains bottled water puts on our ecosystem through its production and transport, the rapid growth in this industry means that water extraction is concentrated in communities where bottling plants are located. For example, water shortages near beverage bottling plants have been reported in Texas and in the Great Lakes region of North America. Farmers, fishers, and others who depend on water for their livelihoods suffer from the concentrated water extraction when water tables drop quickly.

So let's see. Bottled water is expensive, (largely because of branding issues) bad for the planet, bad for you, and most of us can't tell it from tap water. Doesn't seem like a hard decision, really.

26 January 2007

How not to recount an election

Ohio election workers convicted of rigging 2004 presidential recount
Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board, and ballot manager Kathleen Dreamer each were convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee. They also were convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty.

����Prosecutors accused Maiden and Dreamer of secretly reviewing preselected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16, 2004. They worked behind closed doors for three days to pick ballots they knew would not cause discrepancies when checked by hand, prosecutors said.

��Defense attorney Roger Synenberg has said the workers were following procedures as they understood them.

����Ohio gave President Bush the electoral votes he needed to defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the close election and hold on to the White House in 2004.

Convictions in Ohio Recount Tampering Case
Why would they do such a thing? Does this mean that the election really was stolen after all?


The prosecutor in the case didn't allege that the recount was rigged for political reasons. Rather, it appears that the officials did so in order to avoid having to manually recount over 600,000 punch card ballots. Had they really selected the 3% of ballots at random, it's likely that the hand and machine counts wouldn't have matched. Remember that Cuyahoga was using punch card ballots. An inherent problem with this equipment is that hanging chad can get pressed back into place when put through the machine. Sometimes, chad can actually come out during the recounting process. A truly random recount would likely have meant that all the ballots in Cuyahoga County would have to have been recounted. As I mentioned at the time the indictment came down, I wouldn't be surprised if the allegations are true. In fact, I suspect that officials in Ohio's other counties did the same thing.

To be clear, this isn't at all to excuse the conduct in which these officials engaged, or to deny that they deserve to have been convicted. Where the law prescribes a particular procedure, it's critically important that those procedures be followed -- even when it's certain that the outcome won't be affected. The failure to follow prescribed procedures will only contribute to public distrust of the integrity of our election system, something that nobody wants (except that small cadre of pundits who have made a career out of spinning conspiracy theories about stolen elections). The crimes of which these officials have now been convicted are therefore serious ones ... even though they didn't affect the outcome of the 2004 election.

Okay, the Kerry Administration stays in the realm of alternate history, but it's ridiculous that election laws can be blatantly ignored, there's no way to test that by a proper recount, and the only form of review is a criminal prosecution 2 years after the election. Even if the Ohio case had shown now that Kerry should have got Ohio's votes, that would not undo the count in the electoral college where Ohio's votes elected Bush.